When is the “Truth” a “Bad Habit?
By Mitchell Ange, President
So you’ve been flying your single engine Cessna, Piper or Beech for a few years and consider yourself a pretty good pilot. You’ve earned your instrument rating and then your multiengine rating in the Seminole or other light twin-engine trainer with several hundred hours total time logged. Now you’re looking for a new challenge, perhaps to advance your flying skills or even move into a new career. Many small businesses are discovering that ownership or time-share of a small business jet makes a lot of sense in today’s environment of hostile airline travel.
Ever wondered what it’s like to fly a jet? What pilot hasn’t? “But,” you may ask yourself, “is the flying experience I have in that Cessna or Piper really applicable to flying a jet?” Well, the answer is “yes and no.” Of course there are differences, but not as many as you might have been led to believe. And those differences are manageable with a reasonable amount of training. Let’s take a look at a few of the new skills you will learn as a jet pilot.
One obvious difference between a light twin and jet is overall performance, especially in the climb. Instead of initial climb rates of 1000+ fpm, light jets may be climbing at 3000 to 4000 fpm, some even faster. This is an exciting characteristic to get accustomed to but it does make it easy to overshoot your assigned altitude during climb-out. Remember, light jets typically operate above FL 180, meaning that you are flying IFR in Positive Control Airspace, even if the weather is severe clear. Altitude discipline is important. Depending on your rate of climb, you’ll need to begin leveling off several hundred feet or possibly a thousand or so feet before your target altitude, especially down low where these airplanes have lots of excess performance. You will have to compensate for this newfound performance by looking a little further past the nose of the airplane than you may be accustomed. You will need to anticipate that altitude you are approaching at a rate of a couple thousand feet per minute and begin your level off accordingly. Your passengers should never feel light in their seats as you level off. If they do, you waited too late to begin leveling off.
Another difference between jets and propeller driven airplanes is the absence of prop effects. A significant pitch change accompanies throttle movement in all light propeller airplanes I have flown. This is due to a number of factors, one of the most obvious being the location of the propeller(s). Adding thrust to a propeller driven airplane will temporarily increase the velocity of the slipstream of air behind the propeller. This slightly increases lift produced by the wing and significantly increases down-force produced by the horizontal stabilizer. As a result, the tail pitches down pivoting the nose up, causing the airplane to climb. The reverse is true when the power of a propeller driven airplane is reduced. This is not a bad thing, especially in small airplanes since we almost always combine an increase in the angle of attack with an addition of power to initiate a climb. Many general aviation pilots were brought up with the “truism” that power controls altitude and pitch controls speed. This “truism” is, in fact, vigorously defended in the classic aviation book Stick and Rudder and alluded to in the FAA publication Airplane Flying Handbook.
Unfortunately, this basic “Truism” gives birth to a “bad habit” when trying to achieve attitude and speed consistency with jet thrust. In this writer’s experience, using the “power to altitude” and “pitch to speed” will get you into trouble with a jet. Well designed jets with engines mounted on the tail are nearly pitch neutral over a wide range of thrust settings. They do exactly what they are supposed to when you change power. If you add power, they speed up. If you reduce power, they slow down. If you want the airplane to descend, you will need to pitch down. If you want the airplane to climb, you’ll have to pitch up. This seems intuitive to this writer, almost an unnecessary thing to have to say, but old habits are hard to brake. Nevertheless, I can’t tell you how many times I have informed a student that we are below our assigned altitude or below glide slope only to have him add power! Not only does that response not fix the problem in our jet, it creates another one, we are now too fast!
Does this sound like “new” thinking? Not to jet pilots! Practice controlling airspeed in your small airplane with thrust and control altitude with pitch. It is the correct way to fly, especially if you want to graduate into small jets. Apply the “power to speed” and “pitch to altitude (or glide path)” the next time you are shooting a precision spot landing in your Cessna or Piper. You may be amazed at the increase precision you have. Obviously, if the airplane gets slower than you prefer in the climb (or flying up to the glide slope), you may need to add power. Likewise, if it gets too fast in the descent (or flying down to the glide slope), you may have to reduce power. Just be aware that you are making these adjustments in power to control airspeed, not to climb or descend. Remember the basics, the elevator makes an airplane go up or down, thrust levers make the airplane go fast or slow. Try it! You’ll like it!